Lt. Governor candidate Dan Patrick is wrong to attack law providing in-state tuition to undocumented students

On Monday, State Sen. and current candidate for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, released his first televised campaign ad, in which he vowed to both “secure the border” and “fight Obama.” Patrick had little to say in the 30-second spot about actual immigration policy, but he did manage to flout his bona fides as the only candidate for the position who has a history of opposing in-state tuition for undocumented students.

We understand why Patrick would take aim at undocumented students pursuing higher education, as very few of them overlap with his voter base. But that doesn’t stop us from being disgusted and concerned that Patrick, a strong candidate in the race for Texas’ second-in-command, has decided to strike out first at a law that and provides Texas students with a greater access to higher education.

The law was passed with bipartisan support in 2001 and was signed by Gov. Rick Perry, both in 2001 and again in 2005.

Under current law, undocumented students — or students who have entered the U.S. without being inspected or without the necessary legal documents — may pay in-state tuition at public universities like UT if they meet four criteria:  Students must have graduated from a Texas high school or received their GED in Texas, have lived in Texas for up to three years before graduating high school, have lived in Texas in the 12-months immediately preceding their attending college and have signed an affidavit stating that they will apply to become a permanent United States citizen as soon as they are eligible to do so. Students who meet these four criteria are also eligible to receive some state, but no federal, financial aid grants.

In other words, the undocumented students receiving in-state tuition are those who have already proven themselves committed to gaining an education in Texas and who have the least access to financial aid.

Moreover, studies completed as recently as 2010 have shown that undocumented immigrants tend to have lower family incomes, further limiting their ability to pay for a higher education — suggesting that Texas is not missing out on out-of-state tuition dollars when they give undocumented students the in-state price.

There is one glaring problem with the current in-state tuition law, in that there is no mechanism for ensuring that undocumented students actually apply for citizenship when eligible.  Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, who is also running for the Lieutenant Governorship and who voted for the bill in 2001 as a member of the Texas Senate, pointed out as much in a reply to Patrick’s ad.

Ideally, students that the state has spent money to educate through high school and college would make their relationship with the country official and file for citizenship.

Rather than search for solutions to this problem, Patrick has decided to push these educational opportunities for undocumented students off of the table and go straight for the throat of this progressive and practical law.